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Author: emmalina

The First Warm Day

The First Warm Day

On what felt like the first warm day of the year, our cow Daisy birthed out a beautiful heifer in the afternoon sunshine.  I know it wasn’t actually the first warm day of the year, but it was the day that seemed to herald a run of warm days, the beginning of the end of winter.  In fact, exactly one week prior, an ice storm had smacked the province around quite heartily and we had spent the day huddled without power and grateful for the last of our wood stores.

This was Daisy’s first calf, but we knew she would be wonderful.  She’s adopted any and every calf we’ve had on the farm and she has lived up to all of our expectations of her as a mother.  She was protective, without being skittish, and we delighted in hearing her Mama moos as she began to graze in her home pasture on the first green tips of spring/summer grass.

The little one has fast become a favourite of the herd.  She is constantly nuzzled, bumped and watched by one or other of her relatives and intersperses running around wildly with happy napping in the growing pasture.  It has to be said that there is little more pleasing to a farmer than to see a healthy animal born and raised right on your own farm.  It gives a sense of continuity and of meaning that is easy to forget in the long, unending weeks of winter and more winter.

But on her heels came spring, followed quickly by early summer it would seem.  The fields are suddenly bursting with grass and golden headed dandelions.  The trees are beginning to blossom and the air is full of living scents, so incredibly welcome after long months of sharp, freezing air.  Hopefully another calf will be joining her in the fields soon, another little bundle of red and white to run and skip just for the sheer fun of being alive.  The farm is expanding into the growing season again and we are beginning the months of busy work that mark this season too.

There are days, many of them, where we fall into bed boneless, the work of the day heavy on our limbs.  We can’t imagine waking with any energy the next day, yet somehow it is there.  The green of the trees seems almost magical after months of white and brown, the constant sound of birds in the day and chirruping frogs at night keep us company as we do the unglamorous work needed to keep this place ticking over.  But it constantly still amazes me, the cycle of it all spinning around again and bringing us back into the sunshine.  Long live the green days, long live the baby days, long live summer.

A Pile of Piglets

A Pile of Piglets

Two and a half weeks ago (to be precise), Mrs B. went into labour on a cold and breezy April afternoon.  In all the years we’ve been breeding our pigs, this is only the second time that Mrs B. has birthed out during the daylight hours.  We were grateful for this miraculous eventuality, but it didn’t detract from the fact that it was a very, very cold evening for sitting inside an unheated barn.

Despite our familiarity with the pig birthing process, it really never ceases to amaze and delight.  Baby piglets really are extraordinarily cute little creatures and when 13 of them arrived hale and hearty, we couldn’t have been happier.  Their teeny noses and plump little bottoms are one of the most pleasing things the human eye can behold.

Unfortunately, the weather was not in the mood to celebrate our basket of new arrivals and proceeded to lash us with winds, rain, snow and ice storms for the next two weeks.  This necessitated keeping Mrs B. and the piglets tightly tucked away in the farrowing barn, for fear of wandering piglets getting caught in the cold and freezing.  Mrs B. showed no signs of wanting to frolic in the ice rain, instead enjoying her post birth extra rations and the warmth and cosiness of her babymoon barn.

This weekend, however, brought with it the warmth and sunshine we had been dreaming of, through the long cold winter months.  Thoughts of ice storms and snow banks were banished as the sun beat down, renewing our spirits and relieving our harrowed senses.  The pig, with her babies, was released from her natal confinement and allowed to bask in the warmth of the sun, creating a mattress of warming delight out of the straw she lay on.  The piglets had their first taste of outdoor life, snuffling and snuggling in a big pile that almost seems to move as one.

Allow me to illustrate.

 

If I could further press my point…

You’re welcome.

While the piglets had fun in the sun, their parents took the opportunity to soak up some rays too.  But, of course, their Mama always had a watchful eye on her little ones.

 

This may be the last batch of piglets under our care for a while, as our friends are taking custody of our breeding pair this year in order to give us a well earned winter off.  Though I’m very much looking forward to the prospect of a family vacation and some down time, I can’t say I’ll be happy to see them go.  The pigs, and their offspring, are a continual source of joy and pleasure to us.  We are lucky indeed to share our lives with such wonderful creatures.

Melting

Melting

There are days that just beckon you outside no matter what you are doing.  The warm breezes, the shining blue sky, the melting snow….

Monday was one of those days.  Plans for table work and house chores went out the window as I gathered up my camera, dog and child and headed outside into the warm spring day.  The sun was beaming, the snow was beginning to recede and I have learned over many, many years that these days are a gift.  A gift you need to make the most of because, like a really sucky birthday party that does not go your way, that gift will be snatching from your fingers and hidden out of sight for an indeterminate period of time with no warning whatsoever.  Life can be harsh that way.

I searched everywhere for signs of spring, the forming buds on the ends of branches, the moss covered rock that was simply waiting for the warm touch of sunshine to bring it to life again.  The fungi clinging to a log that somehow make it through the bitter cold each year seemingly untouched.  I wish I could say the same.  But where I mostly found spring was inside.  Neirin went dashing off, exploring hedgerows he ‘had never seen before’.  He was fascinated by a ‘massive’ tree that seemed to have sprung out of nowhere, begging to be climbed.  He dashed in and out of bushes and trees, exclaiming to me how lovely it all was, how warm it was outside, how he really didn’t need his coat at all.

I followed him on his journey, weaving around him and noticing the receding snow, the skeletal plants standing in contrast against the remaining monochrome background.  I pushed my feet into the mushy white stuff, feeling it give way to the warmth of the sun and the turn of the season.  Each moment seemed somehow significant, bright and very lovely.

 

Every shimmering touch of green feels like a wondrous discovery.  Even the melancholy remaining feathers of a long lost duck felt part of a new beginning; the day held us in the palm of its hand and gave us the warmth we needed to get through another bout of wintery grey.  But the best bit about it?

Spring. Ish.

Spring. Ish.

Theoretically it is spring, as in the first day of.  I know this because the calendar says so.  Begrudgingly I will also concede that yes, the days are in fact longer than they used to be not so very long ago. But.

It’s really, really cold.  And when I say cold, I am really not messing around.  I’m talking overnight temps of -21C, which in countries other than Canada is cause for nationwide shut downs and a wailing and gnashing of teeth only previously seen when the Cadbury’s Cream Egg was reduced in size.  Seriously though, I’m still not over that.  But back to the weather.

Snow is still very much in evidence here, though in order to mix things up and give us a little variety we also have patches of ice.  The ground that made a short visit to Visibility Town only a couple of weeks ago, is once more encased in a frosty tomb and shows none of the promise of life, greenery and warm month frolics that my heart so longs for.  Le sigh.

Instead we continue on with our winter routine, making sure that animals have unfrozen water, keeping bedding fresh and cosy for long sleepy days snuggled up while the wind whistles outside.  Damn how I envy our pigs.  We cast our eyes longingly towards water troughs that will run on unfettered hoses in the summer months, freeing us from the labour of shifting buckets of water from one place to another.  We turn our faces away from the biting wind and imagine ourselves in the future, pausing under a shady oasis while warm breezes wash over our over heated brows.

There are indications of  spring for sure, the sound of birdsong is more present than it has been, the light floods our house warming us during the daylight hours and leaving behind residual warmth for many hours afterwards.  The cats are actually marginally willing to go outside, rather than spending their waking hours finding hiding spots that will defeat our desire to not have them wee on the floor in the night.  In this way spring is beginning her unfurling, tickling our senses with the possibility of mushy ground and green shoots.

But oh I how crave a quicker return.  I was so in love with the above zero temperatures we had a few weeks ago, I stood out on the deck and felt the breeze wash over me as I dared to go outside with only two layers of clothing on and neither of them was made of down.  Up here in the frozen north it really does stay colder for longer, and while I’m able to welcome the dark nights of winter after a long season of busyness, I’ve now reached the pointed of cabin fever and can’t wait to be out on the land again.

And I suppose that’s the point of it all really, that’s what keeps us sane on this cycle of warmth and cold.  When you make the most of each season, when you wring out of it as much as you possibly can, the passing of it seems less painful.  After a busy summer and fall of gardening, working outside and making the absolute most of every hour, the prospect of quiet hibernation becomes very welcome.  Now, though, we are ready for the next phase.  I want to feel my fingers go numb in the black earth that is barely ready to receive seeds.  I want to bring in sheets off the line that are still cold with spring wind and crisp from riding the turbulent breezes.  My fingers itch to caress the first buds on the trees and touch the unfurling leaves with soft tips that may yet have to withstand snow and ice.

So to all those who, like me, are feeling the burning desire for spring to get underway, I promise it will come.  Not as quickly as we wish and not as easily as we would like but the wheel is turning once again.  It’s our job to hold on tight and hope to not get squished.

Nourish

Nourish

It seems almost impossible, at this time of year, to resist being caught up in the frenzy of diet and health ‘advice’ that is in abundance.  We are meant to begin the calendar year with a sense of purpose, a redefining of ourselves and all at the time of the year when we most want to pull the duvet over our heads and sleep for the next quarter year or so.

Doesn’t sound fun.

Like everyone else I struggle to balance out all of the contradictory advice about food and health that exists in the world.  There are so many variations of what is ‘healthy’ now that it really boggles the mind.  Much as I love new information, I find myself in overload when I try to tackle the myriad possibilities of what I ‘should’ be putting on my plate.  Frankly I’m tired of it all.  I’m tired of feeling that only some slimmer, younger, more vibrant version of me is acceptable to the world.  That I must be less in order to be more.  I’m tired of fighting an endless fight that I’m never going to win.  And on top of all that I’m actually just tired.  It’s been winter for a long time and, well,  ugh.

So I have a new watchword that I’m trying to use to steer my choices over the coming months and it is the title of this post.  Nourish.  It’s a simple yet complex notion that I can decide for myself what works for me based on how I feel.  I can decide to eat, or not eat, foods based on a few questions I ask myself.

Does this food make me feel good?

How do I feel 10-20 mins after eating?

Does it feel nourishing to me right now?

Simple enough really and of course, very personal.  What is nourishing will mean different things at different times, even on the same day.  Does it feel nourishing to eat delicious meats I raised on my own farm?  Yes!  Go right ahead.  Does it feel nourishing to enjoy a delicious tea with even more delicious company, snacking on cookies or special occasion treats?  Most certainly!  Enjoy to the fullest.   Does it feel nourishing to sneak an entire handbag of peanut M&M’s into the cinema when you have a once a year opportunity to be out without the children and stay up crazy late watching bizarre Sci-Fi movies on a sold fuel of lemon flavoured water and sugar?  Hell yes!

I’m a grown up person with many pairs of big girl pants, therefore I know that if I eat a handbag full of M&M’s every day I will probably be violently ill or die of malnutrition.  But as the old saying goes, All things in moderation, including moderation.  It can feel good to cut loose, just as it can feel good to acknowledge when something isn’t working for you and make a change.  It is nourishing to care enough about your own wellbeing to craft foods that make you feel strong and healthy; it’s also kind to recognise your own humanity and just do your best as much as you can.

In a world where even the humble potato has been demonised, where food is ‘clean’ or ‘detoxifying’ (as opposed to dirty, naughty and just plain filthy one presumes) it is easy to get sidetracked and confused.  It is easy to miss signals your own body is sending, telling you what works for you, right now.  What works in the winter, is different to what works in the summer.  In the summer I am thrilled to eat garden raised salad with every meal, in the winter I want potatoes with some potatoes on top, don’t hold the potatoes.  Our needs change with different phases of our lives and, I think, tuning into that is more important that what the internet says is good this year.

So when I feel the panic that tells me that a perfectly healthy food that I’m really craving is bad, I ask myself the question, does this feel nourishing to me right now?  The reason why the answer is yes might be layered, but if it is yes then that’s good by me.  I’m looking for my food to make me feel full, to give me energy, to encourage strength and movement in my body.  I need meals that will allow me to garden, to pig wrestle and to do more laundry than there are clothes in our house.  I also need for it to not include ingredients that have to be sourced by climbing up a Himalayan mountain, barefoot in December or requires me to spiralize fairy wings into a smoothie made from Kale and wishes.  That just doesn’t work for me.

I’m never going to be a teeny person, I’m never going to be small or unnoticeable.  I don’t think I want to be.  What I want is to feel energetic, full of life and enthusiasm.  I want to laugh, move, eat, create and generally enjoy life.  And sometimes, I just want to eat cake, damnit.

Predator and Prey

Predator and Prey

Around here we are used to being the ones who decide which critters live, which breed, which die and when.  We work our hardest to control their environment to keep them safe, happy and content.  But as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall once said, Sometimes you don’t get to play God.  Sometimes God does.  

While the abundance of our farming life is the thing we try to keep most in mind, it is the losses that we feel most keenly.  Over the years we have experienced inevitable and unexpected losses from illness, from accidents and, of course, from predators.  We consciously try to keep our farm as safe for our animals as possible, using electric fences, having a farm guard dog, being vigilant about lock ups and keeping food away from critters that might decide it’s home.  But no matter how hard we work, some other creature is working hard for their survival.

Racoons will break in to coops, skunks will steal eggs in broad daylight and a weasel can get in to the tiniest crack and wreak havoc when they do (last year we lost our entire flock of laying hens to a weasel).  Of course there are also coyotes and wolves that will scoff up a chicken that has decided they would rather roost in an open field, thank you very much, and all that is left for the farmer to find is feathers.

Over the summer some of our breeding ducks disappeared, it took us a while to notice as the ducks live pretty wild on the farm and often taken themselves off to a hidden corner to build a nest or hatch a brood.  Eventually we realised they weren’t coming back but we saw no signs as to where they might have gone.  More recently we noticed the ducks we reducing in number and no matter how much we tried to persuade them to roost in safety at night they were having none of it.

Then last week we got a clue as to what was going on….

 

Yep.  That’s a fox getting stuck in to what can only be described as an ex-duck.  This is probably one of the only sightings I have of a fox in the 12 years since I’ve moved to Canada and, I have to admit, I found it hard to be angry at it.  In this barren landscape of snow and ice, he (or she) seems to have a right to be here much more than we do.  His red fur stood out brightly against the snow and, though he knew we were watching him, he was hungry enough to risk coming close enough to be shot or caught.

I know the impotent fury of a farmer watching her animal die for no good reason; I have felt the rage of waste and the desolation of loss.  I didn’t feel that as I watched this brightly furred beast tear at frozen flesh.  Perhaps it is that I could see a beautiful animal that was just trying to live, perhaps it was that the duck was already dead so it seemed fruitless to fight it.  But I think, really, it is that the fox reminds me of home.  His kind are more abundant in the UK but I’ve always found them arresting.  They seem to stand in a place between town and country, hunted and reviled by many, adored as a fluffy wilderness dog by others.

As he strayed out onto the pond we saw his tail was ragged, perhaps from a fight or past injury.  He didn’t seem self conscious about his raffish tail manicure and eventually looked straight back at me, while I stood watching him.  He had the air of one who wishes to leave, but wants you to know he goes on his own terms; so he sniffed and walked slightly jumpily across the pond before picking up the pace and trotting across the field to the safety of tree cover.

He glanced back a couple of times, to check nothing was after him I think, and in truth I wish him well.  I sincerely hope my remaining ducks learn to listen to our stern advice about curfew from now on, but I can’t blame the fox for their silly headedness.  Much as I hate to lose livestock, I will treasure the sight of this beautiful animal. His red coat and distinct shape form a timeless silhouette  against the increasingly monochrome winter landscape.  His is the spirit of survival, the desire to live and the beauty of a totally natural thing.

Good luck Mister Fox.  Stay clear well clear of my chickens you red headed bugger.

Summer’s Scent

Summer’s Scent

The air at night smells like burning sugar, that deep, caramel smell that tells you something delicious is on the way.  I don’t know what combination of plants and warmth is required to make that smell, but every summer it catches me by surprise.  The light is always dipping behind the horizon when I catch this scent, I always wonder at first if it is something cooking somewhere.  But then I remember, standing on that spot the year before and the year before that.  Every year I remember and every year I am amazed.

I dip my head under the willow branches as I head to the chicken coop.  It’s time to close the door on our girls and their guardian boy.  The air under the willow tree is cool and soft, like walking through thin water.  When we moved here the tree was not so broad, it’s branches didn’t dip so low.  Now we weave through them, like a curtain to a secret world.  It is the gateway that separates farm from home, my own little Narnia entranceway.

I check to see that the Rooster is in the coop, he won’t hop in until all the girls are safely tucked away.  He’s always in a different spot and the gaze he lays upon me is imperious.  I’ve done my work, he says, you do yours.  I internally forgive him for his ninja lightening strikes from out of bushes or long grass, scratching my legs and getting a swift bucket to the face in retaliation.  We are not at peace, but there is a cessation in hostilities as I close the coop under his watchful eye.

Winnie goes happily into the barn for her night time rest.  A day of watchful snoozing in the shade can be exhausting.  Our routine is familiar now, it takes no time at all.  I slide the bolt across and think again how proud I am of this building my love made.  I take the gravel path home, checking in on the pigs as they settle in the twilight.  Stretching out on broken down hay bales they organize themselves as they wish.   Their inner workings are quite mysterious, you see.

At the house I turn my head to breathe in mint and lemon balm, they merge on the cooling air.  The lights of stars spark to life in the darkening sky, but everything else is lost in the wash of menthol and citrus that drifts from the garden bed.  They spill everywhere and I am delight in their fragrant messiness.

The bites of bat sized mosquitoes chase me in, in to a house filled with the last light of the day.  We never turn the lights on until we have to, I love that half light of all things the best.  The noise of children avoiding bedtime usually drives away any freshness I brought in with me, but tomorrow I might be lucky and surprised again; surprised by the smell of sugar in the air.

Sad Tales. Happy Tails.

Sad Tales. Happy Tails.


Of course the pig would have to choose a windy, icy night on which to birth out.  It just had to be 3am after I’d been ill for a few days.  Her milk just had to come in on the night Stephen had to work late and she just had to be in the wrong field and we just had to herd her into the farrowing barn through the ice and wind instead of being cosy and warm by the fire like normal people.

Normal.  People.

No it doesn’t ring true, so I should just let it go.  Normal people don’t put their hand inside a 600lb sow at 3.45am on a Wednesday in March to retrieve tangled piglets and bring them gasping into the world.  But if I didn’t I wouldn’t get to hold squiggling bundles as they feel cold air for the first time, and are propelled by every instinct in their tiny bodies towards the milky safety of their Mama.  I wouldn’t get to feel the powerful pulse of life, working along side an animal that trusts me, gently but firmly pulling breech birth babies out by the tail while sweating in the frigid night air.

I don’t think normal is my bag.


Normal sounds quite appealing when things go badly, like several hours earlier when I was riddled with stress and panic, wondering if we could coax our ready-to-birth sow across the line she’d learned to avoid and respect.  If we could get her to walk across the now massive seeming pasture and into the safety of the farrowing barn, where she and her babies would be safe.  Because let me tell you, that pig does not go anywhere she doesn’t want to.

In the end ‘we’ didn’t.  Stephen did.  The relationship he has with that pig really does astound me, and so he coaxed her carefully in to the barn where she could birth in safety and her piglets could be coddled and healthy.  Putting my arm up a pig’s birth canal was peanuts in comparison to that, I’m really not kidding.

Our clever girl birthed 13 piglets, a beautiful mix of black, Berkshire striped and spotty ones.  They couldn’t be prettier and we sighed with relief when she cleared the second after birth and stood up for a drink.   In September her birthing had been so hard we wondered if she could be a Mama again, but our vet was confident and I’m so glad we took her advice.  Mrs B was a super champ and has been the most content with this litter that I have ever seen.  In her purpose built pen she can see her babies as they cosy up under the heat lamps in their special ‘creep’ box.  They can get out of her way as she gets cosy and moves around, then she lies down (along protective boards that give piglets places to hide) with her udder facing them and oinks for them to come to dinner.  It’s the loveliest scene you can imagine.

And while I like to tell people about the lovely bits, there are sad bits too.  Pigs have lots of babies because they are not all expected to make it.  We’ve worked very hard to create an environment that minimises the risk of crushing and keeps the babies safe and warm.  The pen allows Mrs B freedom of movement (unlike farrowing crates) and when they are all napping under the heat lamps she gets to rest and recover.

But as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said, ‘Sometimes we don’t get to play God.  Sometimes God does.’

One of the piglets, one we dubbed ‘squealer’ because she was shrieky from minute one, started to show signs of struggle early.  I was out with the kids when Stephen called to tell me she was looking really weak, she seemed to have had some kind of stroke.  He wisely brought her inside and kept her warm and cosy, secretly hoping she might bounce back.  She died on our bed in the sunshine; the warmth of the house and a gentle departure was the best we could offer her.

The next day, when I was doing my bi-hourly check of the piglets, I found another little one down.  She was the runt of the litter, half the size of the others and had struggled from minute one.  Somehow she’d managed to wriggle herself under the slide board during the birthing process and was cold as a stone when we found her there.  While we assisted Mrs B we’d kept her in our jackets, close to our bodies, to warm her.  After a session with me by the fire she’d perked up and returned to her Mama.  When I found her she was cold and still, barely breathing.  I sighed with heavy heart and brought her in.

Warming her up was the priority so I dug out the sling I used to carry the boys in and tucked her in there with a heat pack.  She staying snuggled in for hours and, much to my surprise, carried on breathing.  No one sells pig milk replacer in our area, but our vet had told us that kitten milk might work.  We duly purchased some and began to syringe feed the little one in the hopes of giving her strength.

Syringe feeding can be a risky business, if you get it wrong the piglet will aspirate and die, so slow and steady is the order of the day.  After a good feed we graduated her to a heat pad by the fire, a cosy blanket was her bed and we placed a heat pack next to her to simulate her family.  Piglets are not meant to be alone and she duly snuggled it with all her strength.  In between feeds she slept flat out, breathing softly, the rest of her still.

The tide began to turn around 10.30pm when, after moving her to our bedroom for night feeding,  I came in to find her out of her box and having a power show down with one of our cats.  She squealed and stood her ground fiercely, I’ve never seen a cat look so confused.  That feed was different, she was more wriggly and demanding, sucking down the milk ferociously and with determination.  Around 11.30 she demanded more and again around 2.  By 5am, when she began to refuse the milk and took up biting me instead; I decided that she was ready to return to Mama.  And so she did.

Mrs B, champion mother that she is, welcomed her back with a happy oink and nothing more.  I think she is so used to us that our smell did not alarm her, we sighed with relief the she hadn’t rejected this little scrap and let them get on with it.  ‘Charlotte’ as we’ve dubbed her, is still going strong.  We tried feeding her the milk a couple of times but she made it clear what she thought of that, not much.  We watch in fascination as she fights through the hoard and gets the milk she wants, always first and last at the teat.  She sneaks out while the others are asleep too, she’s not daft that Charlotte.

Yesterday we were out in the barn and we snuck a look under the lid at the babies as they napped.  In a long line they were, top to tail and squeezed together, happily snoozing.  Along the top of several of her siblings, using them as a mini porcine sun lounger, was Charlotte; basking in the heat from beneath and above she snoozed, as happy as a pig can be I think.  A dozen happy pigs, plus Mama, is pretty good going by my reckoning.  Makes icy winds and crazy nights seem worth it.

Power Outage

Power Outage

I’ve never made any bones about that fact that Stephen is the power house behind our farm.  He’s the muscle that brings the hustle, he’s the man with a plan.  Except.

Well except for the fact that he’s human and can break.  I know this because I watched it happen.  Over months discomfort turned into pain, which turned into debilitation.  After ‘treatment’ for back pain that only made things worse, we finally found out that Stephen’s back had herniated.  It could have been the time he carried twelve 5 gallon buckets of water for the cows, it could have been a million other things.  Death by a thousand…well heavy buckets I suppose.

Eventually, after not being taken seriously by a lot of different people, we ended up where I knew we would, emergency surgery.  As ever I’m eternally grateful for the medical services we have access to, as much as we try to do our own thing medically, when you can’t feel your legs you’re really happy that someone spent many years in medical school learning how to make you better.

So it’s been a bit of a road.  A road of discovery, of hard work, of trying to figure out how we are going to manage everything.  I took over the farm chores just after Christmas and it’s been mostly me and the boys up until now.  Stephen has been on call for emergencies (so every other day) and has been coming out to help more than I’d like, but woman power has been keeping things going.

Now I’d like to big myself up, but my work is really a sticky plaster keeping things from gushing.  Though I have learned to use an electric drill with deadly force, I know my limits.  Luckily the work we did last year to improve the infrastructure on the farm has made it possible for me to step into Stephen’s wood smoke smelling farm coat and keep things ticking over.  Without it, I really don’t think it would have been possible for me to manage the animal load with have this winter.  5 pigs, 4 cows, 9 ducks and a flock of laying chickens is more than we’ve carried in the past and was more than I would have thought I could have managed without my love to carry the bulk of it.

So how have I managed?  Well, at times, I’ve felt not very well.  There have been tears of frustration, of anger, of exhaustion.  I’ve been worried, I’ve been fearful, I’ve been extremely cross.  The weather has been a mix of blessedly mild and horribly problematic (I’m looking at you ice rain) but I’m generally grateful for the lack of mind numbing temperatures that make your fingers stop working after 5 minutes.

There have been setbacks, more than a few.  A frozen water supply because one of our cows likes to pull the plug out of the trough heater.  The pigs all deciding a fun game of ‘swap houses’ would liven things up during the long winter months.  A less fun game of ‘try to shag my underage daughter’ meant that the house swap really was not groovy and had to be resolved asap despite the fact that one of the players is a 600lb boar who ain’t going no where if he doesn’t want to.  And then there was the day when I walked into the chicken house to find that most of my flock had been murdered in the night by a weasel that I would really, really like to kill.

And that was just the last 2 weeks.

But hey, as my neighbour says, that’s farming.  As the weeks have gone on I’ve found my rhythm.  I’ve worked out what I can and can’t do, what I will and won’t tolerate.  I’ve got my own little routines and have figured out ways to make things easier.  I’m taking pride in learning new skills and am basking in the glow of some pretty heavy kudos coming my way from my beloved.  He’s a man not given to false praise I can tell you.  I feel a bit broken in places but I’m proud too, proud of keeping things going forward and of not giving in.  I’ve really wanted to at times, but these weeks have given me a real sense of ownership over aspects of the farm I never saw as mine.  I’m making more decisions, I’m able to see the issues more clearly because I’m part of it all more.  I’m finding a mental stamina that feels good to possess.

Plus I’ve had help.  I’ve had Stephen’s knowledge which is extensive, his physical help whenever it’s been needed or even when it’s not (sitting back doesn’t come naturally to him).  Our neighbour has stepped in and moved hay, shifted snow and been a support as he has for the last 5 years.  My dear friend and her husband have helped with childcare, meals, shifting heavy feed sacks and general sanity preservation; things really would have been bleak without their amazing back up.  We have loving family members offering to get on flights and help out if need be, plus the emotional support we need from those we love the most.

The boys (particularly Huwyl) have been basically wonderful.  Hauling wood, water and straw bales around the farm isn’t the usual remit of an 11 year old, but my lad has been by my side whenever possible.  Though they are still young the boys are learning the importance of family sticking together, of working side by side to support each other when it’s needed.  I’m proud of the young men these lads are turning into, I’m grateful for their open hearts and strong shoulders.

So here we are.  Counting the weeks until spring, watching the weather forecast obsessively and turning our faces to the wind to see if it feels like spring is coming yet.  There are good days and bad days, but that’s the way it always is.  A lot of the time I wonder why, why do we put this stress on ourselves.  Why do we make life harder than it has to be?  Wouldn’t it be nice to just lounge in bed a little more each day?  Wouldn’t it be easier to just not?

Yes, it would be.

But then, the moments that make it all seem worthwhile would be gone too.  The special glimmer that shines like a diamond sliver in a handful of sand.  The feel of a heartbeat on a fresh born baby critter, the long chats at the farm gate while the fragrance of wild summer air surrounds you.  The knowledge inside you that made something, did something, created something where otherwise nothing would exist.  It’s what keeps you moving forward, the memory of that, the hope of that.  It’s addicting.  I’m hooked.  It’s a lost cause.

Peace and Love

Peace and Love

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Diwali, Happy Eid (some years!), Blessings of the Yuletide be upon you.  Oh, and Happy Holidays.

There are a lot of words we can say to each other over the course of this dark winter season, I know that bothers some people but I say the more the merrier.  Any chance to share words of kindness, to wish good things for other people, is a good thing.  I don’t have to share a person’s faith the share their good intentions and I love this season for the way it breaks down barriers and gives us the chance to connect to strangers all around us.

I remember distinctly being in Nepal for Diwali, the festival of lights.  Every door way was surrounded by fairy lights and the world seem lit up by colour and magic.  I remember watching a woman making a sand mandala on her front door step, she looked up and smiled at me with warmth and connection.  I didn’t know the history of why she was doing what she was doing but I understood it none the less.  She was celebrating life, making the world a little more beautiful, creating art right there at the front of her house.

I do believe that there are more things that connect us than divide us, when we really look.  We all want good things for the people we love, we all want peace and prosperity for ourselves.  These are good things to want, we are not selfish to want them.  The selfishness comes when we seek to deny these things for others, or switch off our compassion for those in need.

So while I don’t share the faith that sits behind the Christmas celebrations, I can certainly share the intentions behind the words we hear all around us at this time of year.  When someone says Merry Christmas to me, whether it’s an automated response or a sincere and heartfelt wish, I know what is truly meant by those words.  It is the same as any celebration, of any religion, of people around the world.

They mean stay safe, stay warm; I hope you are loved, I hope you are happy.  

To those of us lucky enough to experience safety, family love and peace at this time of year we can rejoice in our good fortune.  We can donate money, time or goods to those who are less fortunate and we can use our words and gestures to remind all around us that most people are good people.  Most of us want peace, most of us want to give love and receive it in return.  It’s pretty simple.

So whatever beliefs sit inside your heart, whatever this season means to you whether it’s a time of faith or simply a time to be off work with family, I wish you only the best.  Stay safe, stay warm.  I hope you are loved, I hope you are happy.

Blessings of the Yuletide from our family to yours xxxx